Being a travel professional who handles domestic and international travel for corporates, I have travelled the least, personally. Having said that, the first destination that crossed my mind, and that of my friends was, Ladakh “the land of high passes”.
The next couple of days were spent with friends, sipping down our poisons and pondering over how to plan this trip while managing the finances and our work schedule. And as it happens with all such trips, the plans remained only on paper with the ideal season for travel just a couple of months away. The real kick came in when ‘3 idiots’ hit the screens in December 2009. There was a sudden boost in the travel for Ladakh. With our interest, again at the peak after watching the movie, we decided that it is high time we made this trip happen.
The plan was simple, fly into Delhi and a road trip from thereon. Apart from our flights to Delhi, a car for the road trip and a guest house booking in Leh, nothing was pre-booked. Barring the severe dust storm en route Amritsar and a spare tire from our car rolling away in the middle of the road, the journey was smooth.
Day 1: Our entry into Amritsar was late in the evening wherein we had heavy buttery dinner, roamed around and dozed off at a hotel that we randomly checked in at. The next day, like any tourist would, we visited the beautiful Golden Temple and the memorials at Jallianwala Bagh. Bidding Amritsar farewell, we started our journey towards Patnitop.
Day 2: From 42 degrees in Amritsar to 6 degrees in Patnitop, was a pleasant and welcome change. Patnitop, was a quiet hill station surrounded by nature. We decided to call it a night and stayed at a place which was more like a B & B.
Day 3: The next morning, we commenced our journey towards Srinagar on one of the most scenic routes. If you are on this route stop at “Teen Bhaaiyon Ka Dhaba”, a placed owned by 3 brothers, for a quick but mouthwatering lunch. Our stay in Srinagar was on a house boat with the most generous hosts. We were treated royally. We managed to do some shopping on Dal lake and enjoyed delicacies like Rogan Josh and Goshtaba.
Day 4: Leaving Srinagar we headed towards Dras. A town in Kargil district, it is often called “Gateway to Ladakh” and is known to be the coldest place in India. Our arrival into Dras was late in the evening and we managed to get a huge room and a simple small town dinner.
Day 5: We finally began our journey towards Leh the next morning, with a proud visit to the Dras War Memorial. With a short pit-stop in Kargil, we headed towards Leh. The road to Leh is beautiful and scenic with many passes. Three of the important ones are Zozi La, Namki La and Fotu La. We reached Leh late in the night, checked in at our guest house and called it a night.
Day 6-10: The next 4 days were spent with 2 days stay in Leh and 1 day each at Pangong Lake and Nubra Valley.
The 2 days in Leh were spent exploring the street markets, monasteries and local cuisine. 1 night stay at Pangong Lake was a home stay under a starry sky. The homemade food was delicious. The other day we travelled to Nubra Valley. The sand dunes and Bactrian camel rides are a must visit.
Day 11: It was time to bid adieu to Ladakh and start our journey towards Manali. The intention was to travel the entire stretch of 490kms in one day. After experiencing the amazing Gata Loops, a series of twenty-one hair pin bends, we reached Sarchu. After a short tea break we resumed our journey. Around 4.30pm, closer to Darcha, there was a huge traffic jam. With a narrow, rough road and snow on both sides, a 200-meter patch was so severely damaged that it was difficult for even a bike to pass through. Fortunately, the army officers, with their tow trucks, were assisting the civilians free their vehicles from the half broken, wet and muddy road. Approximately around 8pm we made progress, it was a much needed relief from the fear of running out of fuel. It was not before 5 in the morning next day, that we got moving towards Manali.
Day 12: We reached Manali late afternoon and checked in at a simple guest house with a beautiful view. After exploring the local market, listening to our neighbor’s sing and play the guitar, we retired to our rooms and treated ourselves with a lengthy card game.
Day 13: Leaving Manali next morning, we headed towards Delhi. We reached Delhi around 2am and had to stay in the first available hotel, which reminded us of the famous hotel ‘Decent’ from Jab We Met.
Day 14: The next morning, we explored Delhi. The afternoon was spent exploring Palika Bazaar, lunch at a restaurant in Connaught place followed by watching the movie ‘The A-Team’ (who would want to miss out on Liam Neeson?). Then we visited India Gate, followed by a mandatory dinner at Kareem ‘s.
We had our flight back to Pune next morning and decided to spend the night at Delhi domestic terminal. On the most boring night and with a heavy heart that an amazing trip has come to an end, we knew our routine lives awaited our arrival.